From the Denver iJournal (J.D. Thomas):
With Colorado cities facing austere watering restrictions and farmers unable to plant crops this year, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, believes the wait for a decision on the Northern Integrated Supply Project has gone on too long.
“The unpredictable nature of snowpack and rainfall in Colorado underscores the need for more water storage in good years, so we are better prepared for the bad ones,” said Garner who is hoping to hurry along a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision regarding the project. “NISP would provide the water storage we need to support northern Colorado’s growing communities and provide protection to farmers and families when the weather turns dry.”
An Environmental Impact Study process conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project has already taken nine years and cost the participants about $11 million. The congressman is currently drafting water-storage legislation to streamline the approval process for projects like NISP, according to a statement from his office.
“This will ensure that these projects don’t drag on for decades and waste millions of dollars,” said Rachael Boxer-George, Gardner’s spokeswoman. “We are going to set a deadline on when the initial application needs to be approved or denied. The length of the EIS process is being discussed as we draft this bill, but so far we’re focusing on just the permits.”
Ten-year waits on an EIS are certainly not unprecedented, for instance the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has gone through a similar wait on the Windy Gap firming project. But as growing municipalities on the Front Range seek new quality water sources, the undammed Cache-La Poudre is a natural place to look, and participants in NISP includes not only Weld and Larimer county water districts and municipalities, but also Erie, Lafayette and the Left Hand water district in Boulder County.
Though the two project elements will not actually dam the Poudre, the project has also attracted substantial opposition, including Western Resource Advocates of Boulder. That organization has suggested a program of water conservation, reuse of municipal water and transfer and coordinated use of agricultural water could provide the same amount of water while maintaining the riparian ecosystem of the Poudre.
“I certainly hope the congressman doesn’t believe that he can cut out public input on this process,” said Laura Belanger, the water resources engineer with the Boulder environmental organization.